A performer in the touring company of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" says the production is not just a carbon copy of the Broadway hit.
"Beauty," which arrives at the Adler Theatre in Davenport on Tuesday, includes seven of the original creative team that received nine Tony Award nominations in 1994, including its costume designer ("Beauty's" only win, losing best musical to "Passion"), director and choreographer.
"It's just really a treat," said Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who plays Gaston. "It's great, since they were there from the conception of the piece.
"They have so much knowledge to impart," he added, "and I think that helps me in my character."
While Gaston is considered closest to a villain in "Beauty," Smith-Kotlarek said, "he's only actually really bad bad at the very end of the play.
"It's kind of interesting to see that in the beginning everybody in town does like him — except Belle," he continued. "Everyone relates to Belle right from the beginning, so they see right through Gaston's meat-headed comments."
Smith-Kotlarek, riding a train from New York to a performance in Stamford, Conn., Friday, said he enjoys making that transition.
"It's interesting to see that switch, where he goes from a really well-liked person in the realm of the play to someone who can't justify his actions," he added.
Smith-Kotlarek said the creative team was very flexible with himself and the other performers.
"They're very collaborative and they let us bring our own ideas, but they're so structured. Right from the get-go, they know how they want it and exactly what to do. They can just put it on you and you have leeway to put it in the constructs of what they give you to make it your own," he said. "They encourage that, too."
The original team also provides continuity, he said.
"It's nice to have all of the history and all of the performances that have come before to build upon. It's nice to know when they tell you to do something that it's going to look good because it's tried and true," Smith-Kotlarek said.
"Throughout the process they've made sure we're owning it and being ourselves as well," he added.
Born in Milwaukee and raised in Appleton, Wis., Smith-Kotlarek received his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin and his master's from Indiana University.
His resume, however, includes far more opera than musical theater.
"I've always used music as a continuum," he said. "Especially in today's day and age, everybody is listening to all styles of music at this point and there's no reason for snobbery at this point.
"I sing opera because I like it a lot and I think it's a very beautiful art form, very complex and fulfilling," he added.
Smith-Kotlarek's vocal stylings have even earned the praise of Carol Burnett who, after hearing him sing at a cabaret for the Music Academy of the West, said, "'Time After Time' was never better, and I heard Sinatra sing it!"
He said he has two mindsets for opera and musical theater.
"(Musical theater is) something that's immediately accessible, whereas opera is a wonderful way to take an evening and explore something that's maybe a little more foreign," he said.
"In my years of exploring, I've found you can find good pieces and bad pieces in any genre," Smith-Kotlarek added.